April Fool’s Day is just behind us, and if you got pranked you may very well still be on high alert. Sometimes dystopian, post-apocalyptic and science fiction fans like me get bogged down in a gritty atmosphere where everything seems bleak and mirthless. I know many readers feel life is beginning to imitate dystopian fiction, too. But here we are almost out of winter and things are beginning to look brighter and the sun is growing stronger. It’s time to smile our way into spring with a few of the funniest YA novels guaranteed to leave a smile on your face. To lighten up the mood, check out my picks for the funniest YA novels.
Jillian Tamaki is a prolific graphic novelist who often teams up with her sister, Mariko, such as with Skim (2008) and This One Summer (2014), the later of which was a Printz nominee and won the Caldecott Honor in 2015. Teens are definitely Jillian Tamaki’s comfort zone, and her humorous take on high school is on full display in SuperMutant Magic Academy (2015), a collection of webcomics about a fictional magic boarding school (hmm… Hogwarts?). I loved laughing my way through the book, which subtly poked fun at teen drama and existential angst. The surreal drawings are infused with a breezy whimsy. You might see yourself or people you know in these playful comics which earn a place in my pick of the funniest YA novels.
If you love strong narrative voices, you will love Andrew Smith’s Winger (2013). Ryan Dean West is just 14, but he’s already a junior at an elite boarding school for rich kids. Ryan Dean is always dismissed by people as being “adorable,” and it’s hard to deny. His intelligent-yet-still-immature voice describes his world, including pranks, bullies, and bromance. Sprinkled among the book are Ryan Dean’s cartoons. Conspiracy theories abound. A lot of the humor comes from Ryan Dean’s hyperbolic descriptions, with every drama magnified to a hilarious effect. But be forewarned. Though Ryan Dean is extremely perceptive, he cannot foresee a tragedy that will dominate the remaining pages. Be prepared to laugh at one of the funniest YA novels ever, but also cry. And if you love Andrew Smith’s adorable hero, be sure to pick up the sequel, Stand-Off (2015).
Sure, we all know John Green can write devastatingly tragic stories that should have a book hangover advisory sticker on their cover. But he can also be quite hilarious. One of his earlier books that I count among the funniest YA novels is Paper Towns (2009). Our hero is Quentin, a band nerd about to graduate from high school. Quentin (“Q”) is in love with his neighbor, the charismatic Margot. He’s only ever known her from afar until one night she breaks into his room and convinces him to go through with a sleepless night full of pranks and activities. When Q wakes up and heads off to school the next day, Margot is missing. Q recruits his friends to try to find Margot, someone more mysterious than he ever envisioned. Green’s novel is humorous but undercut with a serious theme: how can we really know someone if we put them up on a pedestal?
Another humorous YA graphic novel is Nimona (2015) by Noelle Stevenson. The heroine is Nimona, the eager sidekick to an evil super-villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart. Nimona is fiercely loyal and will do anything she can to serve Lord Ballister, especially if it means she can deflect hard questions about her own past and powers. Noelle Stevenson, who also draws the Lumberjanes comics, has a funny, joyful style. From scary dragons to diabolical plans to bring chaos upon the world, Nimona subverts the conventions of superhero stories around a tender core message of friendship and love.
E. Lockhart is the author of some of the smartest contemporary YA today, including We Were Liars (2014) and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (2008). But my favorite is Dramarama (2007), a heartfelt but humorous story about summer theater camp. Sarah tries to reinvent herself as Sadye at drama camp, where she hopes to escape her boring Ohio town full of boring people and get on the fast-track to fame. Her best friend, Demi, is hoping to find a community where he can be himself. If you’ve ever been around musical theater kids or were one yourself, you’ll appreciate how Lockhart nails that culture. The book is a perfect satire of the backstabbing dynamics in the gossip-fueled world of youth theater. It’s also a thoughtful coming of age story as Sadye realizes that she is not as talented as she thought she was. While Sadye finds she does not truly fit in, Demi discovers an outlet, a platform where he can shine in a welcoming community. Readers will appreciate how Lockhart spoofs drama camp but also paints a bittersweet portrait of friendship.